The Public Prayer Challenge
On any given day, one can pick up a newspaper and find an article that claims that the rights of Christians to practice their religion in public have been eroded. Proponents of this view have introduced numerous pieces of legislation and legal challenges in an attempt to sell their religious views with the support of public funds. They have rallied the troops under the false pretense that their rights have been violated because they cannot express their religion as they see fit, that any government prohibition is discriminatory and oppressive. This misguided call to arms widely misses the mark with fallacious claims of persecution. It misses the mark because it fails to set a line of demarcation separating the state sponsorship of religion from the personal practice of religion.
Most of the arguments condemn the so-called "cleansing of the public square of religion," asserting that the secular humanists have torn our religious roots from the public view and are, in fact, engaged in a religious persecution that has not been seen since the days of Rome. Although the last sentence may be an exaggeration of the proportion of these views, one can, none the less, read statements very similar to this in religious reconstructionist literature. But what is the truth? Except in rare cases, such as when religious fanatics feel that they have to test the system and push the envelop of common sense far enough to get themselves arrested, or when a bureaucrat, not knowing the law or how to apply it, rushes to an erroneous conclusion--it is completely false.
This notion, that religious views cannot be expressed in public (as opposed to government sponsoring or supporting those views), is so ludicrous that I propose the following:
This is a challenge to anyone who believes that Bible-reading (or the reading of any other religious text), praying, or even proselytizing in public places has somehow been prohibited: Take your soapbox and Bible and go to your local city, county or parish park. Read, preach and get down on your knees and pray. Pray out loud if you wish. Hand out literature. Carry a sign. Now go to the steps of your local courthouse or city hall and do the same thing. Now put your soapbox on a public sidewalk and do the same there. Try this in any public place. Unless you are being a nuisance, creating a disturbance, obstructing passage or meet an overzealous bureaucrat, NOBODY in an official capacity is going to tell you that you cannot enjoy your freedom of religious expression in public.
As always, there are a few rules:
You must be in or on public property. You cannot be on private property, unless of course, it's your own property. (Neither you nor I have no right to infringe on the private property of others.)
Don't try this in a public school during the school day. You have no right to infringe on the rights of children when they are at school; just as you do not have the freedom of speech to yell "fire" in a crowded theater, you do not have the freedom of religious expression to yell "Jesus saves" in a crowded public classroom. (You may want to try this at your local Christian school, however; the reaction there could be interesting.)
You cannot violate a law or an ordinance which applies equally to everybody in that public place (e.g., violating an excessive-noise ordinance, disturbing the work place, parking illegally, parading without a permit). For example, claiming that your religious freedom was suppressed and that you were persecuted because you got a parking ticket while preaching is absolute nonsense.
You might want to stay away from some of the more graphically-violent and obscene passages from the Bible, though--especially if small children are present. Referring to how "Happy shall he be, that take and dash thy little ones against the stones," or "ripping babies from the womb," may be misinterpreted as advocating domestic violence. (There have been instances where a bibliolater has been removed for ranting and raving about morality using "specific" and "graphic" biblical examples.) And don't litter.
If I am wrong I will send you a personal written apology. However, I will need a letter verifying the arrest or action from the proper authorities as confirmation that your right of religious expression was violated.
The fact is, very seldom does one see or hear Christians preach or pray in public. Most feel one day a week, or before meals is enough and, in accordance with Matthew 6:5, that praying and religious expression is a private affair. Most feel their homes and churches are the most appropriate place to exercise their religious convictions.
Those who choose to respect the religiousness or nonreligiousness of others should be applauded, for in a pluralistic society the public square needs the diversity of religious ideas and the access for all to express those ideas unencumbered by a preordained state sponsorship of one specific religion.
Disclaimer: The Agora is something like a "Letters to the Editor" section in a newspaper. Agora articles represent the viewpoint of their authors and should not be taken as necessarily representative of the viewpoint of the Internet Infidels and/or the Secular Web. Articles are published primarily on the basis that they will be interesting to our nontheist readers.
Interested in publishing in the Agora? see the Submission Guidelines and the Agora Submission Instructions.